Two bobcats seen wandering around Sanibel Lighthouse beach area, likely hunting rabbits
A pair of bobcats have been roaming the Sanibel Lighthouse area on the south tip of the island, wandering through a popular beach park and likely hunting in the nearby dunes.
Outside of a few local birders and beachgoers, these bobcats are a relatively well-kept secret at this point.
"I haven't heard that but it's cool," said James Evans, Sanibel's natural resources director. "It's not a surprise to me but it's good to hear the report."
With a mostly natural island that's only one-third developed, Sanibel is actually a good place for bobcats.
Quite common in Florida, bobcats can be found primarily in vast wildernesses like the Big Cypress National Preserve or Everglades National Park.
But they're no strangers to developed areas and coastal islands, especially ones as large and natural as Sanibel.
Although they've been seen near the parking lot area at the Lighthouse, the cats are likely hunting for rabbits in a coastal dune system, Evans said.
"Conservation land provides a nice green corridor for wildlife to move back and forth," Evans said. "The extensive dunes we’ve been able to restore in the last few decades provide great foraging opportunities, and with the boom in marsh rabbits on the island in recent years I’m sure they’re attracted to the rabbits."
Rabbits are the No. 1 food source for bobcats, which can grow to more than 30 pounds.
Bobcats are athletic and can leap into the air to catch low-flying birds.
Sanibel is a birder's paradise, with native species and migratory birds flashing their plumage there on a regular basis.
But Paul Gray, with Audubon Florida, said the bobcats probably aren't a threat to the avian species that frequent the Lighthouse area.
"They don't really like people a whole lot so they're probably coming and going because their territories can be pretty large," Gray said. "But they're normally only hunting mice and rabbits."
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Sanibel residents have long pushed to keep the island as natural as possible.
That long-term planning focus has paid off on an island where residents and visitors can see anything from a crocodile to, well, bobcats.
"The goal was to make sure that large animals like bobcats and other animals could move unrestricted from one end of the island to the other," Evans said.
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Just the facts
Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
- Fur is tan to yellowish brown and marked with spots or stripes or both. Backs of ears marked with white spots. Bobbed tail.
- Weighing between 9 and 33 pounds, bobcats range from Canada to Mexico and are quite common in Florida.
- Communicate through scent, visual signs and vocalization.
- Majority of diet consists of rabbits, followed by rodents like squirrels and mice. Also hunts small deer, snakes and lizards.
- Can run up to 30 miles per hour and places rear feet in footprint of front feet to reduce noise while hunting.
- Generally solitary and territorial, although they rarely fight among themselves.